The Iraq War is lost. Prepare for the Post-traumatic Iraq war syndrome syndrome, argues the an op-ed at the LA Times.
The consequences for the national psyche are likely to be profound, throwing American politics into a downward spiral of bitter recriminations the likes of which it has not seen in a generation. It will be a wedge that politicians will exploit for their benefit, proving yet again that politics is the eternal enemy of strategy. The Vietnam syndrome divided this country for decades; the Iraq syndrome will be no different.
The battle for interpretation has already begun, with fingers of blame pointed in all directions in hastily written memoirs. The war's supporters have staked out their position quite clearly: Attacking Iraq was strategically sound but operationally flawed. Key decisions on troop levels, de-Baathification, the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the like doomed what otherwise would have been a glorious war.
The American people seem to understand, however — and historians will certainly agree — that the war itself was a catastrophic mistake. It was a faulty grand strategy, not poor implementation. The Bush administration was operating under an international political illusion, one that is further discredited with every car bombing of a crowded Baghdad marketplace and every Iraqi doctor who packs up his family and flees his country.
There are several differences between Iraq and Vietnam. The first is that Iraq is a strategic country in the oil-rich Persian Gulf from which ultimate withdrawal is impossible. A redeployment perhaps, but a withdrawal no. The second is that unlike Vietnam, whose NVA had neither the inclination nor the capability to follow withdrawing American troops home, al-Qaeda already has. It proved that capability on September 11, 2001. The third is that unlike the Cold War, which consisted of proxy rivalries outside the homelands of the US and the USSR, the battlefield this time will be as close as Fort Dix or the JFK Airport.
The battle for "political interpretation", far from being dreaded by the Left, is probably anticipated with great eagerness. Here at last is the opportunity to round up the remaining survivors of the Vietnam War syndrome for final annihilation. After the hoped-for Iraq War syndrome, the US will finally be remolded. Into what the reader may imagine.
But only by portraying the domestic political component of the War on Terror as "divisive" can the Left proceed to launch it anyway. Without of course the intellectual opposition that might cause fractious debate. But if the debate so far has had any object whatsoever, it has been to promote division anyway. And so it will continue. At all events it is unlikely, now that the Internet has broadened the policy forum, that anyone will be given the chance to politically interpret recent events without opposition. But the main rebuttals will come, not from neo-conservatives, whoever they may be, but from events. The book will not close with Iraq, any more than the war on fascism closed with the Spanish civil war.
The problem with declaring an Iraq War syndrome is precisely that the war isn't with Iraq, and hence makes about as much sense as declaring a post-Guadalcanal War syndrome. The conflict is at least with al-Qaeda and the the theocrats in Iran or so those worthies themselves think. When an post al-Qaeda War syndrome can be studied, that will be the time to look back. And not before.